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Rolling Stone talks to Spacey Jane’s Caleb Harper on the Return of Live Music, Playing Mario Kart on Instagram Live, and Making an Album in Lockdown.

“I tried not to think about it… but when that happened, I cried.”

Caleb Harper is the front man of arguably the biggest break out act of 2020. Running on just a handful of EPs and singles, Spacey Jane blindsided everyone by landing second in the triple j hottest 100 of 2020 with ‘Booster Seat’, narrowly losing out to Glass Animals. In 2021 they did it again with their track ‘Lots of Nothing’. The only people above them that time were The Kid Laroi and the goddamn Wiggles.

Of course, the only people blindsided were the ones who weren’t paying attention – and perhaps those in the band themselves. Above, Harper’s talking about their new record, Here Comes Everybody, debuting on the ARIA charts at #1. It’s not exactly shocking though as, since their 2017 EP No Way to Treat and Animal, the four-piece indie dream rock outfit from Fremantle have slowly become synonymous with the sound of Generation Z. They slot in alongside bands like Pond, Ball Park Music, and San Cisco in producing the kind of underwater glittery anthems to soundtrack the mundanity of the slow motion apocalypse that demographic has come of age in. We caught up with Harper to talk it all through.

“It’s both like a reflection of things now and periods of my early 20s,” Harper told Rolling Stone. 

“I was looking at that as a more universal experience and things that I think people go through based off what I went through.

“I always feel like it’s easier to write about the worst parts of yourself and the worst parts of the world and the worst experiences you have. You’re given more of a licence to be melodramatic than you are to be upbeat when it comes to writing.”

Harper and the crew have more of a reason to lean into the melodrama than most. The thing is, 2021 was supposed to be Spacey Jane’s year. Following their attention in 2020 they dropped their debut LP Sunlight which landed at number two on the ARIA charts and had a stacked Australian tour to support. Then a little thing called COVID-19 happened. You may have heard of it. Primed for success, Spacey Jane suddenly found themselves with wings clipped, bubbled off from the outside world. 

“It was devastating, man,” Harper said.

“I had quit my job so I wasn’t going to work for a few months while we toured. 

“As [the lockdowns] got extended, the despair deepened. It felt like this thing that I was so ready for and excited about was gone”. 

Harper describes the band as one that flourishes on stage, kept alive by the energy fed back from the crowd. That’s how, he explained, all of their music had come about; through the experimentation of new songs with an audience. Losing that, he said, “felt like our foundation as a band was taken away from us”.

Sunlight became the soundtrack to the lockdowns for many, which is ironic given it was written in a more naive era, landing right in the midst of the world all going to shit. Their sophomore effort, written in the depths of that chaos, is definitely a lockdown record and a moment of reflection on what we’ve all just come through. Harper is conscious however of wanting the record to be of use, capturing the experience of other people, not just himself. 

“Something I thought a lot about was trying to avoid the serious navel gazing that sort of was the hallmark of the first part of the pandemic for me, and I think a lot of people, and be like, ‘Okay, what else is happening? What’s the bigger picture here?’ Not just ‘Oh, my God, this is so hard for me’,” Harper said.

He howls “It’s been a long day and I don’t feel like talking / I feel like crying and eating something / Oh what will I do tomorrow / A little unhappy and severely underpaid” on the stripped back acoustic ballad ‘It’s Been a Long Day’. It’s painfully accurate.

The music is intentionally non-specific, allowing the listener to slip seamlessly into the narrative perspective of the song. As Harper explains, “I think that’s what music is to most people. It’s something you take on and it takes on a different meaning for you”. 

“I think mostly that’s what people are doing with the songs that I’m writing, which I think is awesome”.

The album plumbs familiar depths for the band, with recurrent themes of mental health, climate anxiety, and the utter confusion of growing up all swirling about here. However they’re nestled in a little softer this time, mellowed by the electronic experimentation that allows the lyrics to sit back and the songs to wash over you. 

They do still rip it when necessary though, delivered with the shredding of guitarist Ashton Hardman-Le Cornu on ‘Lunchtime’ or the fuzzed out bass roll of Peppa Lane on ‘Haircut’. Kieran Lama‘s slick syncopation grounds the whole project in its deeply indie foundations with rolled high hats and tight 4 x 4 loops galore. 

The album was put together in pretty close quarters due to the circumstances. Harper notes that he had songs for the second record even before Sunlight, collecting them as they toured “mining towns and fishing villages” along the WA coastline while the state was shut off from the rest of us. Eventually, he and Hardman-Le Cornu holed up in a Brisbane studio with producer Konstantin Kersting, working full time on the project over the space of three months.

“Ashton and I flew to Queensland knowing that we wouldn’t be able to get home without doing a two week quarantine but just hoping that it would get better over the next few weeks. It didn’t, in the end. I was there for like eight weeks and he did quarantine back in Perth. It was a whole whole thing,” Harper explains.

Like many bands, they took the wins where they could, managing to duck and weave COVID restrictions as they lifted and fell across various states and territories and adapted to life online – more out of necessity than desire. 

Spacey Jane participated in the first round of Isol-Aid but Harper mentions that getting on Instagram live and “playing Mario Kart and talking shit with people online” was a saviour for them. 

“It was a combination of both depressing and fun but it was a stark reminder of what we were dealing with. 

“It sort of made us feel a little bit less lonely, which hopefully it did for the people watching as well. We just tried our best to connect with and continue to foster this community feel that we  had.”

Still, they managed a fair bit of gigging while the rest of the world could only dream of sweaty crowds and belted choruses. Their long-awaited return to Sydney and Melbourne for a brief run of shows delivered six nights sold out at the Enmore Theatre and the Sidney Myer Music Bowl. Previously, they had only just managed to fill the Lansdowne and the Curtin Bandroom. Then it was back to the mining towns.

This is why Spacey Jane have been drinking it all in, appreciating every second of their once again full calendar. They’re fresh off a European tour and are currently making their way round Aus, returning to the festival circuit where they feel most at home, before starting on their first ever set of US shows. The fact it was once so brutally snatched from us all is not lost on Harper.

“Just the fact that people would sing along [in Europe]. It’s like, ‘How could you have known about us?’ Power of the internet I guess. That was just really cool. 

“We felt very loved and very quickly became comfortable in that environment. We were a bit nervous but actually it was just a very unifying experience because we were there for the same reason they were there which is just to bond over this music. 

“We try to spend a lot of time after shows taking photos and saying hi to people. So many people have have said ‘this is my first show since COVID’. Which is kind of crazy to know that we had been the thing that brought them out of the vacuum of live music. 

“I think we felt really appreciated which is a strange thing because we were so appreciative and to get that back was so cool”.

For the lockdown band that isn’t a lockdown band, things have come full circle. Life is finally able to move on once again now that the play button has been hit. If 2021 was the year that wasn’t for Spacey Jane, 2022 and beyond are very likely to be. 

Spacey Jane’s Here Comes Everybody is out now via AWAL.

Tickets on sale now

Friday 5 August | Perth Arena, Perth WA *AA
Thursday 11 August | Big Top, Sydney NSW 18+/AA – NEW SHOW
Friday 12 August | Big Top, Sydney NSW 18+
Saturday 13 August | Big Top, Sydney NSW *AA – SOLD OUT
Wednesday 17 August | Fortitude Music Hall, Brisbane QLD 18+  – NEW SHOW
Thursday 18 August | Fortitude Music Hall, Brisbane QLD *AA
Friday 19 August | Fortitude Music Hall, Brisbane QLD 18+ – SOLD OUT
Tuesday 23 August | The Forum, Melbourne VIC *AA – NEW SHOW
Wednesday 24 August | The Forum, Melbourne VIC *AA – SOLD OUT
Thursday 25 August | The Forum, Melbourne VIC 18+- NEW SHOW
Friday 26 August | The Forum, Melbourne VIC 18+ – SOLD OUT
Saturday 27 August | The Forum, Melbourne VIC 18+ – SOLD OUT

+ With special guests I Know Leopard and Teenage Dads

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